Healthy Living: Dealing with hypothyroidism
Are you sick and tired of feeling sick and tired? Are you gaining weight without any major diet changes, feeling sluggish, depressed, constipated, weak and aching muscles, dry skin and can’t get the heat into you no matter how warm the weather is? If the answer is yes then it might be worth visiting your GP to get your thyroid checked as you may be suffering from an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism)
Hypothyroidism is a condition in which the body doesn’t make enough of the thyroid hormone thyroxine (T4) . Thyroid hormones help control growth, cell repair, and metabolism. As a result, people with hypothyroidism may experience the symptoms above, among many other symptoms. However many of the symptoms can easily be confused for other conditions and as the symptoms generally appear slowly, sometimes over many years, you may just think your symptoms are a result of growing older! If hypothyroidism is left untreated more serious symptoms may start to appear, such as a change in voice (hoarseness) a slow heart rate, anaemia and hearing loss to name a few.
Diet and nutrition alone won’t cure hypothyroidism and medication alone may not restore your health and energy fully. However, a combination of the right nutrients and medication can help restore thyroid function and minimise your symptoms.
What exactly is hypothyroidism?
The thyroid gland is a small, butterfly-shaped gland that sits near the base of your neck and it makes and stores thyroid hormones that affect nearly every cell in your body. When thyroid levels are low the thyroid gland receives a signal from the pituitary gland, called thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), it then releases thyroid hormones into the bloodstream.
Occasionally, the thyroid gland doesn’t release thyroid hormones, even when there is plenty of TSH. This is called primary hypothyroidism and the most common type of hypothyroidism.
An underactive thyroid often occurs when the immune system, which usually fights infection, attacks the thyroid gland. This damages the thyroid, which means it's not able to make enough of the hormone thyroxine (T4), leading to the symptoms of an underactive thyroid.
A condition called Hashimoto's disease is the most common type of autoimmune reaction that causes an underactive thyroid.
Other causes of primary hypothyroidism are iodine deficiency, a genetic disorder, taking certain medications such as, lithium which is used to treat depression, some medications that are used to treat irregular heartbeats and certain classes of medications used to treat some types of cancer & hepatitis C. (although if you are taking these medications you are likely having regular blood tests)
When the pituitary gland is not working properly, the thyroid gland does not receive enough thyroid stimulating hormone in order to make thyroid hormones. This is called secondary hypothyroidism.
The thyroid gland may be very small but thyroid hormones are very important. They help control growth, cell repair, and metabolism, this is the process by which your body converts what you eat into energy. Your metabolism affects your body temperature and at what rate you burn calories. That’s why people with hypothyroidism often feel cold and tired and may gain weight easily and find it hard to lose weight no matter how hard they try.
How does hypothyroidism affect your metabolism?
The thyroid hormone helps control the speed of your metabolism. The faster your metabolism, the more calories your body burns at rest. So as people with hypothyroidism make less thyroid hormone, the result of this is they have a slower metabolism and burn fewer calories at rest.
Having a slow metabolism comes with several health risks. Low levels of thyroid producing hormones, such as T3 and T4, can change the way the body processes fat. This can lead to high cholesterol and clogging of the arteries, both of which can potentially lead to serious heart related problems.
If you find it difficult to maintain your weight with hypothyroidism, try doing moderate or high intensity cardio. This includes exercises like fast-paced walking, running, hiking, and aerobic exercises, as these type of exercises may help to boost thyroid hormone levels. Follow a low carbohydrate diet and increase protein as this way of eating has been shown to increase metabolic rate.
Which nutrients are important for thyroid health?
Several nutrients are important for optimal thyroid health.
Iodine is an essential mineral that’s needed to make thyroid hormones. Therefore, people with iodine deficiency might be at risk of hypothyroidism. consider adding iodized salt to your meals or eating more iodine rich foods like seaweed, fish, dairy, and eggs.
Selenium helps “activate” thyroid hormones so they can be used by the body. This essential mineral also has antioxidant benefits, which means it may protect the thyroid gland from damage by molecules called free radicals. Adding selenium rich foods to your diet is a great way to boost your selenium levels. This includes Brazil nuts, tuna, sardines, eggs, and legumes.
Like selenium, zinc helps the body “activate” thyroid hormones. It has been shown that zinc may help the body regulate TSH, the hormone that tells the thyroid gland to release thyroid hormones. Although zinc deficiencies are rare, if you have hypothyroidism, you should aim to eat more zinc rich foods like oysters and other shellfish, beef, and chicken.
Which nutrients are harmful to thyroid health?
Goitrogens are compounds that may interfere with the normal function of the thyroid gland. They get their name from the term goiter, which is an enlarged thyroid gland that may occur with hypothyroidism
Surprisingly, many common foods contain goitrogens, including
-soy foods: tofu, tempeh, edamame, etc.
-certain vegetables: cabbage, broccoli, kale, cauliflower, spinach, etc.
-fruits and starchy plants: sweet potatoes, cassava, peaches, strawberries, etc.
-nuts and seeds: millet, pine nuts, peanuts, etc.
However cooking foods with goitrogens may inactivate these compounds
Foods to avoid
Foods that contain goitrogens should be eaten in moderation and ideally cooked first. You should also avoid eating highly processed foods, as they usually contain a lot of calories, sugar and trans-fats. This can be a problem if you have hypothyroidism, as you may gain weight easily and a diet high in processed foods may lead to fatigue.
Here is a list of foods you can eat in moderation. These foods contain goitrogens or are known irritants if consumed in large amounts.
soy-based foods: tofu, tempeh, edamame beans, soy milk, etc.
cruciferous vegetables: broccoli, kale, spinach, cabbage, etc.
certain fruits: peaches, pears, and strawberries
beverages: coffee, green tea, and alcohol — these beverages may irritate your thyroid gland. (if you are taking medication for an underactive thyroid, avoid drinking tea or coffee within 2 hours of taking medication as caffeine may interfere with the absorption of thyroid medication)
Foods to eat
There are plenty of food options for people with hypothyroidism, including:
eggs: whole eggs are best, as much of their iodine and selenium are found in the yolk, while the whites are full of protein
meat: all meats, including lamb, beef, chicken, etc.
fish: all seafood, including salmon, tuna, halibut, shrimp, etc.
vegetables: all vegetables — cruciferous vegetables are fine to eat in moderate amounts, especially when cooked
fruits: all other fruits, including berries, bananas, oranges, tomatoes, etc.
gluten-free grains and seeds: rice, buckwheat, quinoa, chia seeds, and flax seeds
dairy: all dairy products, including milk, cheese, yogurt, etc.
beverages: water and other non-caffeinated beverages
People with hypothyroidism should aim to eat a balanced diet based around vegetables, fruits, and lean meats.
If you think you have symptoms of an underactive thyroid, your first port of call would be to make an appointment with your GP to have a thyroid blood test done. If you have an underactive thyroid and need support around dietary changes, why not schedule in an appointment with The Nutri Coach! There is no time like the present My clinic is back open and I am taking bookings for new and existing clients, so just pop me a message if you would like to schedule an appointment. contact details below.
Debbie Devane from The Nutri Coach is a qualified Nutritional Therapist and health & lifestyle coach, Debbie runs her clinic from the Glenard Clinic in Mountmellick and also offers one to one and group online consultations. Debbie is also Nutritionist to the Offaly GAA senior footballers. For more information or to make an appointment email Debbie at
Facebook: The Nutri Coach @debbiedevanethenutricoach
For more information go to www.thenutricoach.ie